An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.
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Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2016: Khawaja Muhammad Asif

Source: samaa.tv

Source: samaa.tv

If you recall the fiery, brave, and honest speech that Khawaja Muhammad Asif delivered in the Parliament during the Presidential term of a military dictator in Pakistan, this nomination is going to come as a shock to you. It has come as a shock to me, at least. However, the current Minister of Defense has committed a faux pas serious enough to deserve with, with even worse behavior to follow it up.

First of all, nobody in the world would want the name of their country to be associated when it comes to responding to fake news. I have been very sarcastic in my treatment of the previous Pakistani idiots of the year. So let’s not hold back any punches for such irresponsible and idiotic behavior. Khawaja Asif deserves not only our scorn but also our unrestrained jests and insults. But it’s a strange and surprise nomination indeed, but perhaps not so much for the ardent PTI and PPP supporters who have been maintaining the same opinion of him for a very long time.

But let us dissect what happened too, which incidentally only materialized a few days before the publishing of this post. But imagine the shocker that this New York Times story created reporting the Pakistani Defense Minister responding to some obscure fake news on an even remote, even obscurer website.

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While a part of you would want the New York Times to have made an error, just because the statement was made by the minister on twitter, and because his timeline was already full of other wacky statements about Syria and other things. But sadly, his twitter account is verified.

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The very reason that the Defense Minister bought the idea that the Israeli Defense Minister would have a problem with Pakistan deploying forces against the Islamic State in Syria is due to antisemitic conspiracy theories. Entertaining this very idea offers us an insight into the troubled mind of our current foreign minister. But that is subject for yet another detailed post about the incident.

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But there is no wonder that he was not responding to the clarifications of the Israeli Defense Ministry directly addressing the twitter account. I, as a responsible citizen, made a last, hopeless effort to attract the attention of our honorable Defense Minister to at least respond to the clarifications made by the twitter account of the Israeli Defense Ministry, the authenticity of which I am not a 100% sure about.

Source: Customs Today

Source: Customs Today

This unprecedented and shocking development easily earned Khawaja Muhammad Asif the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the Year, but he most certainly was not alone in the tight race for it.

This year was dominated by his party PML-N, as the Senator Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar could have easily been the winner otherwise for stating that the poor have been created to serve the rich. Now, I am not exactly a Marxist, but this sort of statement is enough to boil the blood of even the loyalties. It’s not only undemocratic, it’s beneath the standards of humanity and decency. It’s unimaginable that someone can claim to be a government servant after making such a statement.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

And of course, someone from the Islamic Ideology Council is never far away from winning the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the year, because let’s face it, the organization is idiotic by definition.

Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the CII won the title hands down last year thanks to his provocative, yet absolutely legal and Sharia compliant statements demeaning women. He did not come as close this year when under his able leadership, the IIC condemned the Prime Minister’s decision to establish a National Physics Center in the Quaid-e-Azam University (formerly University of Islamabad) after the name of Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate for Physics, Dr. Abdus Salam. The reason for the objection was that Dr. Abdus Salam was an Ahmedi, which is not supposed to be Muslim and is even supposed to be worse than an infidel.

We surely have our hands full of idiots, don’t we? Dangerous ones too. Do enlighten me if I missed anyone, please.

 

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Irresponsible Legislators

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Even though an overwhelming percentage of the population in Pakistan turn up at the voting booth, most of them would not take the parliament seriously. But why should they if the legislators themselves do not take their job seriously?

The Cybercrime Bill was recently passed in the National Assembly, but according to reports in the media, only 32 members were present in the house.

How the bill was even passed with this sort of roll call is incomprehensible. Odds are that most of the MPs would not have even read the bill. Utterly shameful.

This is probably not the first time that we have seen voting patterns dictated by the party leadership. We have witnessed the entire parliament voting unanimously on significant constitutional amendments. But perhaps that’s because the discipline in our political parties is exemplary.

In any case, should such absenteeism be tolerated?

But what to do with a legislature, whose leader, the Prime Minister himself would hardly visit the house once or twice a year. After all, the executive is the legislator-in-chief of the system, isn’t he?

But honestly, I don’t blame the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers for that. The work of the executive office is completely different from that of the Speaker or the Chairman Senate.

The parliamentary system is inefficient in combining the executive office with the legislature. I seriously don’t think that the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers have the time to bother themselves with the business of the legislature. However, they should have the time to at least answer to the body.

This is why I think the administrative branch should be separate from the legislative branch, as in the Presidential system. But this is not necessarily to assert that the parliamentary system does not work well. However, we know for a fact that our current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is not one who fits well in the legislature. He would rather be left alone to administer the affairs of the state with his handpicked cabinet.

One way or the other, we will always have a legislature and since people vote to hire legislators in the general election, it is time we should pay more attention to appraising their performance as well.

This is why the public must have access to a parliamentary performance scorecard, to at least help our passive-aggressive urban ideologues to get an idea of what their elected members are up to.

FAFEN is a great institute, which is already doing a great deal of work in this regard, but not a lot of people pay attention to their work. I highly recommend subscribing to their mailing list to get an insight into the daily proceedings of the federal and provincial legislatures.

However, I am not sure that the contribution of a non-profit with limited resources is enough to inform millions of Pakistanis. It is surely insufficient to reach out to a considerable number of the urban population anyway.

This is why the media could possibly work to provide this information to voters. If continuous programming about it sounds too boring, it’s easy to produce the legislative report card and voting record on issues near the general elections. At least that could help generate some anti-incumbency votes. Only this way can our legislators stop taking their jobs for granted.

As for the terrible house rules, the legislature needs to do a much better job in terms of guarding the rights of the citizens through serious legislative deliberation. But on the other hand, they would probably not be able to vote on anything if they keep on waiting for a reasonable quorum.

Democracy is a fragile process, particularly in a country such as Pakistan where a good number has still not accepted the idea wholeheartedly.

Of course, the guardians of democracy are not helping its case much for the people.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Curse of Messianic Government: Big Claims Mean Big Responsibilities

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Let’s face it.

Pakistani people’s concept about the government is all over the place. Probably the supposedly illiterate rural population is more sensible and realistic in its expectations of the government than the idealistic and educated urban demographic that lives in a fantasy world.

However, there is nothing wrong with expecting that the government should help its citizens and make their lives easier. It is supposed to. After all, what else is the purpose of a government?

But surely there are limits to it. Especially when everyone agrees that the government is controlled by a bunch of incompetent jerks, who also happen to be corrupt and the biggest thieves in the world, by the way.

The government is not really some superhero entity like Flash or Superman that would instantly fly over to prevent a traffic accident from occurring. As a matter of fact, it is also not Batman and would even not be able to prevent your commonplace mugging on the street. It can improve the policing, improve law and order, but not necessarily stop a crime from occurring in real time. It is just not in its power, as much as you would like to think otherwise.

And frankly, for people who make laws, this entity takes way too much responsibility on its shoulders. Certainly more than it can ever come close to carrying. Surely, they should look after policy concerning everything, but what’s their business with running corporations?

Frankly, we would be much better off if the government was out of the business of generating power for the most part and left it to the free market. That way, at least we would be getting the product in full that we are paying for. However, let’s go with the argument that it is a public utility, and the government needs to oversee every step of the way from its production to delivery, and that it needs to be subsidized for the lower income groups. Which brings us to our politicians.

Our politicians, even the supposedly more conservative ones of them, absolutely have no intention in explaining this as an ideological point during their campaigns. They would keep on bombarding the people with more Messianic claims, more Messianic promises, and they would simply promise miracles and no less. And that’s what gets them elected in this country, believe it or not. Because people love Messiahs over here, which is ironic because Imran Khan lost. But who knows, he may win next time.

PML-N was also elected for its claims of turning around the power crisis in Pakistan, which it has failed to do so as yet, because let’s face it, the government has no concrete solutions to offer. The best thing about that party is that it is apparently the only major pro-privatization party in the legislature at the moment, but it is throwing the same old public control crap at the people as solutions. In part, you cannot blame them for the audience they have to play to.

But with big claims, come big responsibilities.

The government has made the claim to deliver the goods of the public utilities, and the goods it must deliver. And on a low price too, as promised. So it must produce something with the money it does not have, and then sell it at a loss.

But if it is not possible, then can they please stop making the claims?

So that is why the government is responsible for failing to produce power and supply it to Karachi, worsening the conditions in the middle of the worst heat wave this region has ever seen, leading to over a thousand deaths. Not because it was something that the government was supposed to do, but because they had made that claim.

The Sindh government of the champions of public ownership and Messianic Islamic Socialism, the PPP, failed on the same account. But thankfully, they are in more of a position to conveniently point fingers at the moment, though they could have mobilized the relief work in a better way.

And with every crisis, ensues a circus of blame and claims.

Which brings to us a quote that another champion of Messianic government has been sharing on its social media pages, endorsed by Islamist thought leaders. The quote is said to be attributed to Caliph Umar I, which has destroyed the concept of government in the minds of our youth forever. Paraphrased:

“If a dog died hungry on the bank of River Euphrates, then I (the Caliph) would be responsible for it.”

There is surely more wisdom in Abid Sher Ali’s quote out of the two.

This is just the manifestation of our tendency to escape personal responsibility and to have an entity to point fingers to. If not God, then the government would do.

No, the government is not responsible for every single death that occurs, and it is not responsible for every dying dog for that matter. It is responsible for guaranteeing freedom and security to its citizens, establishing law and order, infrastructure, public services, and ensuring secure borders. It is also responsible for promoting the welfare of the citizens, but the more it allows people to take care of themselves the better. Let’s just say it is also responsible for running the social security.

But it cannot perform miracles. It cannot effectively run corporations in a profit, especially when it has to carry the labor deadweight along with it. It cannot possibly rescue every single person dying from a heat wave, or drowning in a flood, or getting buried under rubble in an earthquake. It cannot bring corpses to life. It cannot turn water into wine. All it can do is offer emergency relief.

It cannot even manage power production, because really, it is not supposed to and qualified to do so. That’s an entire industry we are talking about and there are more qualified people and enough resources in the private sector to do the job. Maybe keeping the government out of our lives for a change would make things a lot better. How about we ever try that, since we hate paying taxes anyway?

But how would that realize our dream of an Islamic welfare state?

This single quote sums up everything that is wrong with politics in Pakistan.  And it also offers the perfect excuse for Messianic Islamist politics, because that is perfectly the Islamist view that the likes of Jamaat-e-Islami is a proponent of.

And that dog that died on the bank of river Ravi last night is not the fault of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Gridlock Misery

Source: Dawn/AP

Source: Dawn/AP

I don’t mind paying a good amount of bucks when it is due. Believe me, I don’t.

But not when you are doing so for absolutely stupid reasons… Or even wasting time and energy, for that matter.

September 19, 2014 was by far the most chaotic day I have ever had in recent memory. And I was not alone. Pretty much everyone who was moving between Rawalpindi and Islamabad was that day.

The day was declared to be the “Day of Deliverance” by the protesting opposition party PTI to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. Needless to say the Prime Minister did not resign and it was just another good old PTI concert with a bigger attendance. And the federal government decided to prevent people from reaching there.

But who cares either way?

The traffic gridlock occurred all of a sudden. It was when I was moving back to my office after attending a client meeting, before which my former supervisor had informed me about the Islamabad Highway being blocked.

I was stuck for an hour on a route that should have taken less than minutes. Then ended up reaching my home after about 5 hours when it would have normally taken me 40 odd minutes. This should have cost less than a $1 and ended up paying near $10, yet walking no less than 4 kilometers.

My misery (as a matter of fact, I had probably never walked that far to my home from the route that I took that day), which I enjoyed a little due to the surreal scenes, was nothing to that of hundreds of families stranded in a mega traffic jam that probably lasted all night. Probably some people had to get to the hospital and others wanted to just reach their apolitical, private destinations for their apolitical, private lives and chores.

In other words, it was chaos. The doomsday scenario. Somewhat close to the kind of surreal apocalyptic scenes you watch in a Roland Emmerich film. But thankfully, nowhere near in destruction. Which probably proves that most people are civil.

Or probably that traffic problems occur all over the world, from New York City to Dhaka. But not really, when you don’t have to have them.

It is another example of government making a mess of people’s lives.

It is yet another example of complete disregard of the rights of the citizens.

Yet another example of exceeding bureaucratic powers over people’s lives.

No, the chaos was certainly not because people are disorganized, unruly, or ungovernable barbarians.

It was because the government was preventing them to function freely, probably with the intention of their greater good, as is always the case.

Are you not sick of the idea of know-it-all, all-controlling government?

We Win or No Democracy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

The current political crisis in Pakistan is a case of dangerous and deluded impostors posing as saviors and false prophets, playing with the hopes of children.

We have a political group in our country which is willing to accept democracy only if it manages to win an election. It is willing to accept the function of a state if only it submits to their dictates.

And if not, then the democratic system they so disapprove of must go in favor of military rule, or even mob rule, no matter if nearly 60% of the population voted for it.

They would rather see the military rule established, then see this corrupt, unjust democracy exist.

In other words, a considerable number of people in this country need babysitting. Actually, babies are easier to manage.

It is a world of well meaning idiots who believe that the eschatological Messiah has arrived, and no one else has the right to rule. Like followers of a cult’s true prophet, they would bow their heads to every demand he makes.

It is a world of delusional moralists who would cite fundamental rights to justify their excesses as they would selectively invoke Islam and Hadith, while otherwise having contempt for democracy.

It is a world of audacious cynics whose day would not pass without making a dozen jests about the futility of democracy and the rule of law.

It is a world of self-righteous patriots who would gladly jump to shout treason and would justify insulting and storming the symbols of the state.

It is a world in which there is no room for dissent.

Yet their struggle must go on for true democracy, which is as elusive as the cryptic true Islam that they follow. One that is being  perpetually misinterpreted.

Their struggle must go on until the demands from their beloved leader are met, in the exact order and no matter how unreasonable they sound.

But the protest must go on till true justice is served.

Until this air conditioned populist revolution is brought about.

Until the ultimate act of salvation is attained.

Until the Mighty Imran Khan becomes the Prime Minister.

And the President, and the Chief Justice, and the Caretaker, and the Emir, and the Law.